Today in History: January 3
Let our lives be in accordance with our convictions of right, each striving to carry out our principles.
From a sermon delivered at the Cherry Street Meeting in Philadelphia, September 30, 1849.
In Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons, edited by Dana Greene.1
Political and social reformer Lucretia Coffin Mott was born on January 3, 1793 in Nantucket, Massachusetts to a Quaker family. Inspired by a father who encouraged his daughters to be useful and a mother who was active in business affairs, Lucretia Mott worked as a tireless advocate for the oppressed while also raising six children. Over the course of her lifetime, Mott actively participated in many of the reform movements of the day including abolition, temperance, and pacifism. She also played a vital role in organizing the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, which launched the woman suffrage movement in America.
Mott's commitment to women's equality was strengthened by her experience as a student and teacher at Nine Partners boarding school in Duchess County, New York. While at the Quaker school, she was struck by the fact that "the charge for the education of girls was the same as that for boys, and that when they became teachers, women received but half as much as men for their services…The injustice of this was so apparent," Mott recalled in an autobiographical sketch, "that I early resolved to claim for my sex all that an impartial Creator had bestowed."2 This was also where she met her future husband, fellow teacher James Mott.
Lucretia Coffin and James Mott were married in 1811 in Philadelphia, where the Coffins had moved two years before. Philadelphia and environs became the growing Mott family’s permanent home. Both Lucretia Mott and her husband were ardent abolitionists as well as active members of the Religious Society of Friends. Her abilities as a speaker resulted in her 1821 recognition as a minister, and she joined the more radical Hicksite branch of Quakers when the Society split at the end of the decade. By the 1830s, Mott traveled widely, preaching against war, intemperance, and slavery while also serving as clerk of the influential Women’s Yearly Meeting. Mott founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and it was during that group’s 1838 convention that anti-abolitionist riots led to the widely-publicized burning of Pennsylvania Hall. After passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, the Mott home became a station on the underground railroad.
Mott met Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Conference in London. Though sent as official delegates to the convention, six American women including Mott and Stanton were denied the right to participate because of their gender. The two soon agreed that the status of women must be advanced.
In 1848, Mott, Stanton, and three other women launched the woman's rights movement in the United States by calling the Seneca Falls Convention, which met over two days in July in New York state. The Declaration of Sentiments signed there by Stanton, Mott, and other participants called for the extension of basic civil rights to women. These included the right to vote and the right to hold property.
Following the Civil War and the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Mott joined the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), formed in 1869. On the centennial of American independence, leaders of the NWSA renewed their call for women's equality with their 1876 Declaration and Protest of the Women of the United States. The document called for impeachment of United States leaders on the grounds that they taxed women without representation and denied women trial by a jury of peers.
Though women did not win the right to vote until 1920, a full forty years after Lucretia Mott's death in 1880, she lived to see fulfillment of several demands set forth in the Declaration of Sentiments. By 1880, for example, most states granted a woman the right to hold property independent of her husband, and several state and private colleges admitted women, including the co-educational Swarthmore College, which Mott herself helped to establish.
Learn more about the life and times of Lucretia Mott and other American foremothers:
- Visit Votes for Women, 1848-1921. This collection includes the minutes of twenty-two Woman's Rights conventions, many from Mott's most active years in the movement. Search on convention to explore this archive. The timeline One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage provides an overview of the movement.
- Mott continued to preach throughout her life, but also lectured widely for abolition, women’s rights, temperance, and peace in non-religious settings. Her unrehearsed speeches were often transcribed by hand as she spoke and afterwards published for broader distribution. See her Discourse on Women of 1849, also included in Votes for Women, 1848-1921.
- Like Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was concerned about women's positions within social institutions. Stanton's The Woman's Bible set forth her views on religion and the church's role in limiting women's progress. A draft of this work is featured in Words and Deeds in American History.
- Browse the subject index of "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920 and the subject index of Women of Protest to locate portraits of movement leaders, as well as photographs pertaining to the history of the cause.
- Explore the Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Women of Protest, and American Women to learn more about women and the suffrage movement into the twentieth century.
1Dana Greene, editor, Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1980), 113. (Return to text)
2Margaret Hope Bacon, editor, Lucretia Mott Speaking: Excerpts from the Sermons & Speeches of a Famous Nineteenth Century Quaker Minister & Reformer (Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill Publications, 1980), 6. (Return to text)